Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recounted an Aesop’s Fable to regional chiefs from the Assembly of First Nations during a closed-door meeting in Ottawa earlier this month, according to a memo from the talks.
The memo on the Jan. 14 meeting was written by Gord Peters, the deputy grand chief for the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians, submitted to the executive of the AIAI and obtained by CBC News.
It says B.C. AFN regional Chief Terry Teegee raised the issue of the previous week’s RCMP action against the Wet’suwet’en camps set up to prevent access to the area by Coastal GasLink pipeline workers.
The RCMP action at the Wet’suwet’en camp triggered protests across the country.
While Ottawa kept its distance from the police enforcement, which occurred as the result of an injunction issued by a B.C. court, Trudeau and his government faced fierce backlash with some decrying it as a potentially fatal blow to the prime minister’s stated goal of reconciliation.
He spoke about the RCMP, Indigenous law-making and the Delgamuukw Supreme Court decision which set out the test for Aboriginal title — and involved the Wet’suwet’en, the memo reported.
In response, Trudeau brought up the Aesop’s Fable about the sun and the wind wagering on who was strongest by knocking the coat off a traveller.
It seemed a little out of place– Gord Peters
In an interview with CBC News, Peters said he found the the prime minister’s telling of the Aesop’s Fable somewhat strange.
“It seemed a little out of place,” said Peters.
“He wanted to change the dynamic of what [Teegee] had put on the table. To me it was a little out of character as well, because of the gravity of the issue [Teegee] was expressing.”
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According to the fable, the wind went first, blew really hard, but the traveller held onto his coat tighter and tighter. When sun’s turn came, it shone warmly, and the traveller, feeling the warmth, took off his coat.
Trudeau suggested his government was taking the approach of the sun, the memo said.
“He said that his government was doing something totally new,” said the memo, which paraphrased what Trudeau had said.
Teegee also spoke about the TransMountain pipeline, said the memo.
“In particular [Teegee] spoke of unsurrendered lands and the need for the PM to resolve this issue immediately,” said the memo.
“[Teegee] ended his comments by stating, ‘no sunny days anymore.'”
Teegee did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the Prime Minister’s Office.
In his victory speech after winning the 2015 election, Trudeau said, “Sunny ways, my friends. Sunny ways.”
He was referring to a speech by former prime minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1895 that he delivered while in opposition. In the speech, Laurier told the Aesop’s Fable about the sun and wind.
The prime minister committed to meeting with AFN leadership three times a year under a memorandum of understanding signed in 2017.
Peters said he didn’t find the meeting useful. He said each chief took their turn presenting their issues, but the prime minister and ministers on the other side provided no concrete answers.
“There is nothing substantive that I saw that was going to move the yardsticks any further,” said Peters.
No word on legislation
Peters said neither recently appointed Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan, former minister Jane Philpott or Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez offered the AFN any dates on when the promised Indigenous languages or Indigenous child welfare legislation would be tabled.
Trudeau told the AFN in December the legislation would be tabled this week.
Rodriguez left early, said Peters.
“They gave nothing there,” said Peters. “In fact, Pablo Rodriguez sat there, I don’t remember him speaking if he did say something.”
Rodriguez’s office said in a statement that the legislation would be tabled “soon” and that it was “an essential step towards reconciliation.”
The statement said that Rodriguez “had a very productive meeting” with the AFN leadership.
AFN says meeting was productive
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in an emailed statement that the meeting was “productive and constructive” and that the co-development process on the Indigenous languages legislation continues.
“This has been a multi-year process to ensure that First Nations’ perspectives, priorities and rights are included in this legislation,” said Bellegarde, in the statement.
“I am very encouraged by the work to date and look forward to the introduction of the legislation in Parliament, which we expect very soon.”
O’Regan’s office said in an emailed statement the child welfare law would be tabled “shortly” and “remains a top priority.”